Actor Samantha Beckinsale is best known for playing Kate Stevens in the TV drama London’s Burning. Having experienced domestic abuse, she decided to make a docudrama film to show people the reality of coercive control, and its impact on its victims and society. LOVE? is a compelling film that aims to articulate the silent voices of victims-survivors of domestic abuse. Samantha told Melanie Sykes about the process of writing and filming it.
The film LOVE? has been an organic process from the off. As a survivor of coercive control, a situation I ran from to save my life, I started to understand after speaking to other survivors that there are patterns and commonalities between perpetrators.
There is a myth about coercive control that there is only a direct physical variety and I wanted to explore that.
At the start, I took part in the Safelives ‘I Am’ project in Manchester that the now Queen Camilla opened. It was a photographic exhibition by award-winning photographer Allie Crewe to raise awareness that domestic abuse can happen to anyone.
Chief Inspector Sharon Baker along with other survivors also took part and I was compelled to get involved.
I got to the point where I was starting to understand what had happened to me. It has nothing to do with my intellect, and it’s not because I didn’t have life experience or that I am weak or mad; it was none of those things.
I was raised in a long line of powerful women and was aware that the world was my oyster; I didn’t have to be somebody’s wife to validate me. My mum brought me up like that.
The person who abused me never hit me, but he destroyed and nearly took my life. So it’s not just about physical strength; there are deeply damaging emotional and mental energies that you are dealing with.
When my family met my abusive partner, they thought he was a bit odd, but they were like, Sammy must know what she’s doing, right? Because they didn’t expect me to be a victim of domestic abuse either.
I did call things out, but I was operating in a situation, trying to lead an everyday life with him. I thought I was in an ordinary, standard relationship.
I’d initially identified some coercive and controlling behaviour several times, but I rationalised it for various reasons.
Abusers, generally men, are like parasites, feeding off their targets and hosts: you. And we have to give them their due, they are clever!
They lie from the first minute. It’s a con, as simple as that. The onus is invariably on women or victims to put it right, but it shouldn’t be. We underestimate the power of abuse.
I know it can happen to anyone, and be perpetrated by anyone, no matter the sex, but I focus on women because that’s my experience and the figures bear out the fact it is usually male violence towards a woman.
And one of the things that I found extraordinary was once you start reading all the newspaper articles about the deaths of women, they are described as the ‘life and soul’.
They are kind, they do anything for anybody, they’re feisty. They are fighters, and these men seem to find that attractive but can’t handle it and are deeply insecure about it.
Targets of domestic abuse are not weak because they do fight and are in survival mode continuously.
Abusers know what they’re doing because they don’t do it to everyone they come across. Most people become charmed by the abuser. And this is the patterning, and the impact is the same.
That’s coercive and controlling behaviour and it’s the beating heart of all abuse. Perpetrators often have multiple targets – they do it again and again.
There’s a case hopefully coming to trial in Wales where a woman is among nine victims of one abusive man, and it’s the same pattern the whole time.
One lady told me a perpetrator described how he’d target his next victim. This chap enters a supermarket or shop and deliberately bumps into a woman. He knows he has his next target if she turns around and apologises to him, which he deems a weakness.
There aren’t two to three men a week being stabbed, shot and strangled during ‘rough’ sex. If there were, I think things would be a little bit different.
When you look into suicide rates due to coercive controlling relationships, it’s over ten weekly deaths. We’ve just had the first Coroner’s verdict of unlawful killing on a domestic abuse-related suicide which is ground-breaking and heart-breaking at the same time.
Coercive control happened to a gay friend; the patterning and everything in his relationship was the same. So, on the one hand, it is gendered, as it happens to so many more women, but in some ways, it is not gendered at all.
This is about a group of people in our society who are not held accountable in any way, shape, or form. The fact that only 6% even make it to charging. And even if they do get to prosecution and sentencing, they’re very often given a suspended sentence.
It got me thinking about why this is happening, and I was talking to my friend Simon Golding. Simon is a writer of screenplays, books, and more, whom I’ve known forever.
He introduced me to Jason Figgis, our director, and we started chatting about what we could do. He kept saying to me, Sammy, only you can write this. I was convinced I couldn’t, but he said I could and mentored me through it.
I’d done a lot of research before I started to write. It started with what I call the ‘OMG moments’ when I started reading and talking to people and they can predict what happened next and vice versa. Like they know your life and you theirs… or rather their abuser!
When you’ve experienced it, you know – whether it’s something in the eyes, something that people give off, you just know if someone has also experienced it.
As I carried on researching and looking, I found Professor Jane Monkton Smith’s and Warwick University’s domestic abuse work.
They’ve now done a timeline for homicide, which is being used to help identify where a perpetrator is in the patterning. You can naturally put it in eight stages, and it’s a learning tool.
It’s so that the police or whoever can go, he’s a stage six, or she’s a stage four. Jane has also worked on a timeline to DA suicide. Stage 8 is when they kill.
We have Domestic Abuse Act laws and have had psychological assault in our GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) and BH (Bodily Harm) laws for years but none of it is used.
A big part of the problem is the police have always just looked at it forensically and still investigating forensically. So A did this to B at such a date and time with photos and witnesses.
So that’s why there’s a focus on physical violence only and even then it often fails due to the legal process taking so long.
But change is coming; it takes time though, and that costs lives. So, that’s why we made LOVE?, so society can understand and help.
For the film, I knew it would be challenging to engage people because I had noticed people don’t want to know. Domestic abuse is too confronting. And that’s where some sensory stuff came in with the music and the imagery.
Jason and I were adamant that we didn’t want the dark kitchen sink drama, blurred out, dark and stark; we wanted it to be beautiful. There is beauty and strength in surviving it.
I wrote the script and Jason directed, edited and found Scott Buckley’s music, which is phenomenal, beautiful and moving.
The images were deliberate, and there was no physical violence. The hope was to create just that little dissonance for the audience where you see something, but the reality you hear and feel is very different.
That’s because that’s what these relationships do. It’s so cleverly being done to you. They’re not horrific all of the time. These relationships can be beautiful too. At first.
There have been one or two people who have been too triggered by the film. Something has hit home, and I have heard people who have suddenly realised that is their relationship and they somehow feel released and validated.
The number of times I’ve heard, ‘Oh my goodness, that’s my story.’ Along with others who get fired up and want to take action! So we have achieved what we set out to do.
Economic abuse is becoming more understood too. People need to understand as soon as you have a joint bank account, whoever sets up that account, the other person has to ask permission to come off it, so when you separate it might not be deemed your own money. And with a joint account, the perpetrator can monitor spending.
I’m Patron of Broxtowe Women’s Project and a Surviving Economic Abuse Ambassador and the important thing about the economics of abuse is that it’s not about women wanting this particular lifestyle.
It’s about the weaponising of money, which happens during the relationship.
For example, a man deliberately buys something he knows his partner doesn’t like. And then, if they don’t fake it and accept it, he can say you’re an ungrateful bitch to you and everybody else, stopping you from working, reducing your freedom and choices.
Often abusers also build a picture of themselves as the victim and you as the perpetrator. I know somebody who gave a piece of jewellery to his partner, knowing it belonged to somebody else. When his partner wore it, he got a thrill knowing that she was wearing something that was never hers in the first place.
You know, they found it on a floor in a pub or whatever, but they’re giving it the big I am for having given you something lovely. They’re getting off on it.
And even if people don’t give a damn about the human cost, it costs us as a society. Coercive control bleeds into our economy. It affects our workforce and somebody’s productivity; it affects the schools and the NHS. In the UK, it currently costs £84 billion and costs trillions worldwide.
Everybody has to say enough is enough.
In 2021 children are now legally recognised as victims directly in their own right. How can you healthily co-parent, or how can somebody abusing the other parent be anywhere near a healthy person to a child? And if it was any other adult than the other parent abusing, that adult would be held accountable.
The way things are now, children are growing up in these households knowing they are unsafe and the adults around them will not or cannot always protect them; that impacts generation after generation.
If the perpetrator is violent, men take time to show that side of themselves. No one would stick around after a first date if they were hit.
The perpetrator puts the very best version of themselves forward at the beginning. They plan everything; even the homicides are planned, they are not moments of madness.
People who have never experienced domestic abuse find it difficult to understand how others can stay in relationships, but it goes back to Stockholm Syndrome.
It only took four days for those people to be affected. Domestic abuse is in that vein of brainwashing and it is a fact that leaving is the most dangerous time for a victim.
The next 18 months is the time when he may either kill her, or she may kill herself or be driven to it, which is an inducement to suicide. The life risk is real as the death and murder figures show. Unless there is a solid escape plan, a safe place to go and post-separation protection, there is a genuine risk to life.
Unfortunately for many, leaving is not an option and that is why we need to raise awareness. We have the laws now, at last, but we need a better understanding of the crime.
If you know someone suffering, you can help them by educating yourself on coercive and controlling behaviour and psychological, economic and emotional abuse. Read all you can about domestic abuse, methodology and impact.
Read about the life risk. The homicide and suicide timeline can be helpful.
You can speak to your local domestic abuse organisation or national ones, such as Refuge or Women’s Aid for advice.
Children are now finally recognised as victims in their own right and NSPCC can offer advice. Also, speak to the police. Even if they don’t do anything it’s on the record and having someone other than the victim reporting can help.
We must bring this mainstream, so we must be as simple, straightforward, and automatic as when we teach our children how to cross the road.
Societal change is something that can happen. We did it with seat belts; we’ve done it with drunk driving. It takes time, but it can happen.
Without wanting to sound trite, if this film has helped just one person it’s done its job. The film was made as cheaply as possible, and nobody got paid but it costs to distribute, so we charge £3.99 to rent and £5.99 to buy.
If anyone is at risk of being ‘found’ buying it, we have made it so that it only says ‘White Door Media’ on the bank statements, not the film’s name.
The film is working in raising understanding, and not just for the women who have been abused for years but for others who have an awakening after seeing it and hearing its words – their experiences the world over. Importantly it’s reaching the community around the victims of this crime as well.
You can also find out more about the eight stages of homicide HERE